Opening-night fireworks for Troup
By Kevin Eckleberry
LAGRANGE – They’re off and running.
The Troup Tigers outlasted the Hardaway Hawks 31-28 in a season-opening thriller on Thursday night at Callaway Stadium.
After falling behind in the fourth quarter, the Tigers needed less than a minute to drive 80 yards, with Montez Crowe finding Jamari Thrash for the 17-yard, go-ahead touchdown pass.
The Hawks had plenty of time to drive for an answering score of their own, but the Tigers came through with a big defensive stop to force a punt.
Troup was able to run out the clock and preserve the win while avenging last year’s 21-14 loss to Hardaway.
“It’s a wonderful feeling,” said senior linebacker Macenta Stafford. “It feels so great right now, because last year we lost this game. Everybody was hurt. So it feels good to have that momentum. We’re 1-0.”
It wasn’t easy.
The Hawks trailed by as many as 10 points in the third quarter, but using a bruising running game, they scored two consecutive touchdowns to take the lead with 7:33 to play.
A Troup offense that was so dynamic all night long was not going to be denied, though.
Crowe, who threw three touchdown passes, led the Tigers on a six-play, 80-yard scoring drive that lasted 56 seconds.
Marc-Anthony Dixon made a remarkable 38-yard reception in traffic to put the ball in Hardaway territory, and two plays later, Thrash’s 17-yard scoring catch and an extra point from Carson Wreyford put Troup ahead 31-28 with 6:37 to play.
After Hardaway punted, Troup ran eight plays to put it away, with Crowe throwing a perfect over-the-shoulder, 14-yard pass to Thrash for a first down that helped run out the clock.
Crowe, who had a sensational junior season, got his senior year off to a fast start by throwing two touchdown passes to Kobe Hudson and one to Thrash.
A number of other players got involved as well, including Tyree Carlisle, who had a scoring run in the first half.
“I think we’ll be hard to stop,” Thrash said. “I think we’ll have a lot of chances to make a lot of plays and go deep into the playoffs.”
The Tigers appeared to have things in control after driving 82 yards for a touchdown to start the second half, with Crowe finding Hudson for a 6-yard scoring pass with 8:01 left in the third quarter.
Hardaway didn’t go away.
The Hawks scored touchdowns on back-to-back possessions to claim the lead, forcing the Tigers to come through with some late-game heroics.
Hardaway went on a 13-play, 83-yard drive that was capped by a 16-yard touchdown pass from Dominique Ford to Jakhari Thomas.
The extra point gave the Hawks a four-point lead, meaning the Tigers needed a touchdown to go back on top.
King Mwikuta, Troup’s outstanding defensive lineman, said Crowe had everything under control.
“I looked Crowe in the eye, and he gave me a look back, and he said I got you King,” Mwikuta said. “He went on the field, and drove and we won the game. I love that boy.”
After a 25-yard catch by Hudson put the ball near midfield, Crowe threw the ball downfield toward Dixon, who was blanketed by two defenders.
Somehow, Dixon managed to make the circus catch, giving Troup a first down at the Hardaway 17-yard line.
“We throw balls like that in practice,” Dixon said. “I caught the ball, and it was like, we’ve got to go get the next play, and try to score a touchdown.”
On second down, Thrash beat his defender, and Crowe found him for the 17-yard touchdown, and Troup led once again.
Troup’s defense, which had been unable to slow Hardaway in the second half, was able to make a stop, with Mwikuta making a sack on third down to force a punt.
When the Tigers got the ball back, they remained aggressive.
On third-and-long, rather than stay conservative and attempt to run some clock, Troup went for the dagger, and Thrash’s catch on the sideline for the first down all but sealed the victory.
“That was a hell of a catch on third-and-10,” Glisson said. “That’s as good as you’re going to see. That thing was tiptoeing out of bounds, and it was on the money, back shoulder. That was a heck of a throw and catch to pretty much seal the game and put it away.”
After three running plays, Troup had fourth down with less than 10 seconds left, and a pass-interference penalty on Hardaway ended the suspense.
“Coming out of halftime, I thought we had a grip on it,” Glisson said. “We had made some good adjustments at halftime. What got us in the second half was fatigue, and we didn’t account for that. When we came out, we were stopping them, and then we started getting tired, and we had a guy cramp, and then another guy cramp. And those guys leaning on you all night was tough.”
When the final horn sounded, though, Troup had three more points than Hardaway, and that’s all that mattered.
“We needed a gut-check,” Glisson said. “If you can come out of them and win, they’re usually pretty good for you.”
In the first half, there were plenty of offensive fireworks as well, with the teams accounting for 31 points as Troup took a 17-14 lead.
The Hawks scored first on a 15-yard scoring run by Ja’ron Early less than three minutes into the game.
Troup took advantage of a short field later in the first quarter to score its first points.
After Hudson returned a punt, the Tigers had the ball at the Hawks’ 35-yard line.
The Tigers were unable to score a touchdown, but Wreyford made a 25-yard field goal as the first quarter expired to make it a 7-3 game.
Following a short Hardaway punt, Troup went 41 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, with Carlisle scoring on the 1-yard run.
Wreyford’s extra point gave Troup a 10-7 lead with 7:36 left in the half.
Back came the Hawks, who went 90 yards for the score with Early taking it in from 19 yards out, and the Tigers were down 14-10 with 3:24 to play in the half.
The Tigers answered with a 74-yard, six-play drive.After Thrash caught passes of 30 and 14 yards to put the ball in Hardaway territory, Crowe’s 36-yard touchdown pass to Hudson and Wreyford’s extra point gave Troup a 17-14 lead, and that was the score at the half, setting up the fireworks in the final two quarters.